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How to Avoid Being Sneezed On (and Getting Sick)

 

So you’re at a packed yoga class, on a crowded airplane, or in a throng of Black Friday shoppers, and the person next to you starts making those familiar gestures indicating that a sneeze is on the way. And yikes, she isn’t cupping her hands over her nose and mouth. You need to get out of the way fast or risk catching a cold, the flu, or worse. What do you do?

The easiest defense tactic: Turn your face away from the line of fire. “Cold and flu viruses are spread through droplets in the air from the nose or mouth of an infected person,” says Jennifer Lighter Fisher, M.D., infectious disease specialist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. If there’s no way the droplets can land on your face (or reach your hands, which can then make contact with your eyes, nose, or mouth, then you’ll be safe. Covering your face with your coat or your arms is also effective. Another strategy is to move your entire body at least three feet away from the sneezer. [Tweet this tip!] “At three feet, it’s unlikely the viral particles will reach you, so you can’t inhale them,” says Fisher. (For other tips on staying healthy this season, don't miss these Easy Ways to Stay Cold- and Flu-Free.)

Let's say the sneeze lands your way, and you feel droplets on your face. Hightail it to the nearest sink and wash your face with soap and water, which could prevent the germs from getting into your body. (Alcohol-based hand sanitizer can work too, but it’ll probably sting your skin.) No place to wash up? Don’t panic. Remember, the odds that the sneezer harbors cold or flu bugs, and then the likelihood that they set up shop in your respiratory system, is fairly small.

“Eighty percent of germs are transmitted by the hands,” says Jim Arbogast, Ph.D., vice president of hygiene sciences and public health advancements at GOJO Industries, Inc. For that reason, watch what you touch, and wash your mitts with soap and water before eating, after caring for someone who is sick, and before you touch your mouth, nose, or eyes—the three body areas where germs enter your system, says Arbogast.

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